As the world gets hotter and busier, our engines continue to emit polluting emissions, and half the world lacks access to clean technology or fuel, even the air we breathe becomes dangerously polluted. 9 out of 10 people are now breathing polluted air, killing 7 million people every year.
The health effects of air pollution are serious. A third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and disease are linked to air pollution. This has an effect similar to smoking tobacco and is much stronger than the effects of eating too much salt. Air pollution is hard to escape from, no matter how affluent an area you live in. Microscopic pollutants in the air can overcome our body’s defenses, penetrate deep into our respiratory and circulatory systems and damage our lungs, heart, and brain.
Air pollution is closely linked to climate change. The main cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, which is also a major contributor to air pollution, and efforts to mitigate one can increase the other. The economic benefits of tackling air pollution are much more than we think. In the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, the health impact of air pollution is estimated at more than 4% of their GDP.
The true costs of climate change are seen in the hospitals and our lungs. The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high that switching to cleaner, more sustainable options for energy supply, transport, and food systems is paying off. The absence of visible smog does not mean that the air is healthy. Across the world, cities, and communities alike are seeing toxic air pollutants exceeding the annual average levels recommended by WHO air quality guidelines.
WHO is working on techniques to more accurately map air pollution from different pollution sources? It is also working to improve air quality estimates by combining data from various air quality monitoring networks, atmospheric models, and satellite remote sensing. Air pollution is categorized into two types:
Ambient air pollution and household air pollution. Household air pollution refers to the pollution produced by the burning of household fuels using open fires or simple stoves in poorly ventilated spaces. Both indoor and outdoor air pollution can affect each other as air flows from inside to outside and vice versa.
Household air pollution kills 4 million people each year and tends to affect countries in Africa and Asia where polluting fuels and technologies are used every day, particularly in the home for cooking, heating, and lighting. The hardest hits are women and children, who tend to spend more time indoors.
The main pollutants are:
- Particulates, a mixture of solid and liquid droplets, mainly produced by fuel combustion and road traffic.
- Nitrogen dioxide from indoor gas stoves and road traffic.
- Sulfur dioxide from burning fossil fuels.
- Ground-level ozone is caused by the reaction of sunlight with pollutants in vehicle emissions.
Particulate matter is the pollutant that affects people the most. While particles 10 microns in diameter or less (≤ PM10) can penetrate deep into the lungs and lodge, particles 2.5 microns in diameter or less (≤ PM2.5) are even more harmful. PM2.5 can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system. They can increase the risk of heart and respiratory diseases and lung cancer. For PM2.5, WHO guidelines state that the maximum safe level is an annual average concentration of 10 μg/m3 or less. To encourage cities to reduce air pollution even if they cannot achieve ideal safety levels, the WHO has set three intermediate targets for cities. These are: 15 μg/m3 (interim target 3); 25 μg/m3 (interim target 2) and 35 μg/m3 (intermediate target 1). Many cities now exceed the significantly higher level of intermediate goal 1.
Air pollution has devastating effects on children. Globally, up to 14% of children aged 5 to 18 have asthma, which is attributed to factors such as air pollution. Every year, 543,000 children die from respiratory diseases related to air pollution. Pregnant women are exposed to air pollution, which can affect fetal brain growth. Air pollution is also linked to cognitive decline in both children and adults. It is also caused of erectile dysfunction issue in males and doctors prescribed medicine like Fildena, Tadalista, Vilitra and many more for the treatment.
Recent research shows a link between erectile dysfunction and exposure to air pollution. Although not statistically significant, PM2.5 exposures are consistently associated with an increased likelihood of developing erectile dysfunction. Medications like Cenforce 100, Vidalista 20 and Kamagra 100 temporarily cure the condition.
Airborne pollutants not only affect our health but also cause long-term environmental damage by driving climate change, which itself poses a major threat to health and well-being. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that coal-fired power generation must end by 2050 if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Otherwise, we could see a major climate crisis in just 20 years.
WHO and UN Environment are developing ways to support countries implement WHO recommendations on household fuel combustion and develop strategies to expand the use of clean energy in the home. Mobilizing communities to reduce the impact of air pollution in the world, currently reaching around 97 million people.
There are affordable strategies to reduce emissions from the energy, transport, and waste management, residential and industrial sectors. These interventions often have other benefits such as less traffic and noise, more physical activity, and better use and performance, all of which contribute to improved health and well-being.